Snow Angels

( 12 )

Overview

Arthur Parkinson is fourteen during the dreary winter of 1974, experiencing the confusing pangs of adolescence and the pain of his parents’ divorce. His world is shattered further by the sudden and violent death of Annie Marchand, his beloved former baby-sitter. Narrated by the adult Arthur, who continues to be haunted by memories, the story of a young man’s unraveling family and the circumstances leading up to Annie’s death forms the backdrop for an intimate tale of the price of love and belonging, told in a ...

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Overview

Arthur Parkinson is fourteen during the dreary winter of 1974, experiencing the confusing pangs of adolescence and the pain of his parents’ divorce. His world is shattered further by the sudden and violent death of Annie Marchand, his beloved former baby-sitter. Narrated by the adult Arthur, who continues to be haunted by memories, the story of a young man’s unraveling family and the circumstances leading up to Annie’s death forms the backdrop for an intimate tale of the price of love and belonging, told in a spare, translucent, and unexpectedly tender voice.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A thriller of the heart, at once suspenseful and emotionally absorbing." --Newsday (New York)

“Beautiful and harrowing...An exquisite double helix, each of its two strands the tale of an unraveling family, curving in tenuous but essential relation to the other." --Elle

"Stunning...A truthful and deeply sad picture of the American hinterland, which has lost religion and maybe also lost its capacity for sustained love....Wonderfully effective...O’Nan sees with a vengeance." --The New York Times Book Review

"Haunting...a whole that's much more than the sum of its parts...Moving, beautifully constructed, morally complex." --The Washington Post Book World

"Shines with a cold, stark light...Strangely beautiful." --Los Angeles Times

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The lives of two small-town Pennsylvania families connected by tragedy are related in this assured and affecting first novel by the author of the short-story collection, In the Walled City. Narrator Arthur Parkinson has been haunted by the murder of his former baby sitter, Annie Marchand, which occured when he was in high school. As he relates the circumstances leading to Annie's death-the culmination of a string of rash and heedless acts that included leaving her husband, engaging in an affair with her best friend's boyfriend and proving negligent in the care of her young daughter-Artie also chronicles his own parents' acrimonious separation, which occurred during those same dreary months of 1974. Annie's decision not to reconcile with her wimpish husband, Glenn, who loves her devotedly and doggedly, is paralleled by Artie's mother's decision to divorce his father, the beginning of the family's downward economic slide. Both sets of adults behave like adolescents, and the effects on their children are grave and irrevocable. O'Nan is a skilled writer who views the lives of his working-class characters with unsentimental compassion; he understands how they are entrapped by social background and stark economics as well as their own personal inadequacies-in Annie's case, her impetuous reactions and fierce temper. The novel's elegiac tone is perfectly controlled, and angst and the lingo of male adolescence are rendered with wry fidelity. But O'Nan's triumph is Annie; in spite of her faults, readers will empathize as she makes the mistakes that will bring her heartbreaking life to an end. Author tour. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Arty Parkinson, the protagonist of this fine first novel, returns one Christmas to his hometown of Butler, Pennsylvania, to confront his haunting past-specifically, the winter of 1974, when he turned 15 and two terrible things happened: his family fell apart, and Annie Marchand, the young neighbor who had once been his baby-sitter, was murdered. O'Nan (In the Walled City, Univ. of Pittsburgh, 1993) weaves together these seemingly disparate small-town tragedies-one narrated in the first person, the other in the third-with consummate skill, seamlessly shifting the focus among characters he wishes to make the reader care about. This winner of the 1993 Pirates Alley William Faulkner Prize for the Novel is recommended for fiction collections.-David Sowd, formerly with Stark Cty. District Lib., Canton, Ohio
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312422769
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 10/28/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 318
  • Sales rank: 865,285
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

Stewart O'Nan

Stewart O’Nan is the award-winning author of A Prayer for the Dying, Snow Angels, A World Away and, most recently, Wish You Were Here. Granta named him one of the Twenty Best Young American Novelists. He lives in Avon, Connecticut.

Biography

Stewart O'Nan grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, addicted to cartoons, horror comics, Tarzan, science fiction, movies, TV, and garage punk. He studied aerospace engineering at Boston University, where he developed more rarified tastes (Camus, Coltrane, and the Beats), along with a lifelong obsession with the Boston Red Sox. After graduation, he worked as a test engineer for Grumman Aerospace in Long Island, devoting every spare moment he could find to writing. Then, with the encouragement of his wife, he enrolled in Cornell University to pursue a master's degree.

By the time O'Nan had finished graduate school, a few of his short stories had begun to attract some attention. He moved his family west and taught at the University of Central Oklahoma and the University of New Mexico. Then, in 1993, he hit pay dirt when his short story collection, In the Walled City, won the Drue Heinz Prize for Short Fiction. A year later, his first novel, Snow Angels, was awarded a Pirate's Alley William Faulkner Prize. Since then, he has gone on to forge a distinguished literary career. A self-described "fiction-writing machine," the multi-award-winning O'Nan averages a book a year. In 1996, Granta named him one of the Twenty Best Young American Novelists.

Although critics try to shoehorn his fiction into the horror genre, O'Nan's writing is far too complex and nuanced to permit such blatant categorization. True, his stories are suffused with trauma and tragedy, and his characters react unpredictably to the stress of terrible events; but the violence in O'Nan's fiction owes as much to Flannery O'Connor as to Stephen King -- two authors he acknowledges as important influences.

In addition to his novels, the prolific O'Nan has written a nonfiction account of the notorious 1944 Hartford Circus Fire. He is also co-author with fellow Bo-Sox fan Stephen King of Faithful, a chronicle of the team's legendary 2004 season.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview, Stewart O'Nan shared some fun and fascinating facts about himself:

"Growing up, I delivered the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to David McCullough's, Annie Dillard's and Nathaniel Philbrick's houses. The Philbricks tipped you a dime to put it in their screen door."

"The first novels I read with rapt fascination were Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan series -- coverless, bought for a dime apiece at a Cub Scout rummage sale."

"Back in the early '80s, when I'd just begun to read seriously, I met Doris Lessing at the Kenmore Square Barnes & Noble before her very first game at Fenway Park. She seemed genuinely excited, and apprehensive, as if she might be asked to play."

"The library is still my favorite place in the world."

"I'd rather be reading than doing anything else, including writing."

"I'm an obsessive collector -- coins, books, records, baseball cards."

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    1. Also Known As:
      James Coltrane
    2. Hometown:
      Avon, CT
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 4, 1961
    2. Place of Birth:
      Pittsburgh, PA
    1. Education:
      B.S., Aerospace Engineering, Boston University, 1983; M.F.A., Cornell University, 1992
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

ONE
I WAS IN THE BAND the fall my father left, in the second row of trombones, in the middle because I was a freshman. Tuesdays and Wednesdays after school we practiced in the music room, but on Fridays Mr. Chervenick led us outside in our down jackets and tasseled Steeler hats and shitkicker boots and across the footbridge that spanned the interstate to the middle school soccer field, where, like the football team itself, we ran square-outs and curls and a maneuver Mr. Chervenick called an oblique, with which, for the finale of every halftime show, we described—all 122 of us—a whirling funnel approximating our school’s nickname, the Golden Tornadoes. We never got it quite right, though every Friday Mr. Chervenick tried to inspire us, scampering across the frost-slicked grass in his chocolate leather coat and kid gloves and cordovans to herd us into formation until—in utter disgust—instead of steering a wayward oboe back on course he would simply arrest him or her by the shoulders so the entire block of winds had to stop, and then the brass and the drums, and we would have to start all over again.
Late one Friday in mid-December we were working on the tornado. Dusk had begun to fill the air and it was snowing, but Saturday was our last home game and Mr. Chervenick persuaded the janitor to turn on the lights. An inch or so had fallen during the day and it was impossible to see the lines. “Wrong, wrong, wrong!” Mr. Chervenick shouted. When the girl pulling the xylophone slipped and twisted her ankle, he blew his whistle three times, which meant we were to line up for a final chastising pep talk before we could leave. He climbed the three steps of his little wheeled podium and let us stand in silence for a minute so we would realize how disappointed he was. Snow piled up in our hair. Beyond the sea of flakes drifting through the high lights came the ringing drone of a tractortrailer’s chains on the interstate. In the valley, muffled by a ceiling of clouds, lay the burning grid of Butler, the black river, the busy mills.
“We have all worked very hard this year,” he said, and paused, breathing steam, as if speaking to a stadium, waiting for his words to circle. Beside me Warren Hardesty muttered something—a joke, a rejoinder—and then we heard what I immediately identified (from my own .22, my father’s Mossberg, the nightly news from Vietnam) as gunshots. A clump of them. They crackled like fireworks, echoed over the bare trees on the other side of the highway. They were close. The band turned to them in unison, something Mr. Chervenick could never get us to do.
It had just turned deer season, and we all knew the power company had a clearcut through there behind the water tower, as well as the rights to the few overgrown fields carved out of the woods, but all of us with guns knew the land was posted, too close to the road and the school. And the time wasn’t right for hunting, the light was gone. We looked to each other as if to confirm our surprise.
Mr. Chervenick seemed to understand too, though he was not the hunting type. He praised our dedication, excused us and, instead of leading us back over the footbridge, headed across the empty parking lot for the lit doors of the middle school and stood there rapping on the glass until the janitor let him in.
What we had heard was someone being murdered, someone most of us knew, if dimly. Her name was Annie Marchand, and I knew her first—years before this—merely as Annie the babysitter. Her name at that time was Annie Van Dorn. She lived, then, with her parents, the next house down the road from us. We were not strictly neighbors; between our new hi-ranch and their boxy Greek Revival stretched a mile-wide field Mr. Van Dorn leased to an old farmer named Carlsen. Yet whenever my mother and father decided to escape for dinner out or to a movie, Mr. Van Dorn’s truck would pull up at the bottom of our drive and out would pop Annie with her purse and her schoolbooks, ready to whip me at Candyland and train my sister Astrid to draw on eyeliner.
I suspect that at first Astrid was more in love with her than I was. At thirteen Annie was taller than our mother, and strikingly thin. Her red hair came to her waist; her fingers were covered with rings from admirers. She smelled of the Van Dorns’ oil furnace and Secret deodorant and Juicy Fruit gum, and she made pizza and sang “Ruby Tuesday” and, for me, “Mr. Big Stuff.” Our daydreams, I admit, included her becoming our mother. Once we had an evening-long argument with her over the word “milk,” which we—like most Western Pennsylvanians—pronounced “melk,” but it did nothing to mediate our crush on her. This went on for years, like a grand affair. She left us only when my sister was old enough to watch me, and by then Annie was out of school and working, and sometimes my mother could not get her for Fridays anyway. We’d see her driving by in her brother Raymond’s Maverick or riding behind her boyfriend on his Honda, but rarely. For a few years she became—by her proximity and absence—distant and mysterious. My bedroom faced the field, and at night I studied the yellow eyes of her house and pictured her in her darkened room looking back at me.
Since then she had moved out like her brothers and married and had a girl of her own, but things had not gone well for her. That spring, she and her husband had separated. Mrs. Van Dorn, now widowed, lived alone in the family house. My mother looked in on her every day after work, and often that fall Annie was there, in the kitchen, the two of them commiserating bitterly over coffee. The worst, they must have figured, had already happened.
According to my mother, Mrs. Van Dorn wanted Annie to move back in with her. Annie and her daughter were living alone above town by the high school. Her house was the only one on Turkey Hill Road, a wooded cul-de-sac that ended at the base of the county water tower. The road had once crossed Old Route 2 but when they laid the interstate the government bought up all the houses and blocked it off on both sides. Beyond a caution-striped guardrail the cracked blacktop wandered off into scrub. The other, unluckier houses were still back there, overgrown, shingles mossy; we used to party in them. Mrs. Van Dorn was worried about Annie’s safety, but she and Annie—again, according to my mother—didn’t get along well enough to live together, and Annie stayed where she was.
At the hearing her nearest neighbor, Clare Hardesty, said she’d heard the shots and gone to her window. The road was empty, the spotlit water tower half lost in the snow. Annie’s lights were on; a colored string blinked around a tree. Clare didn’t see any cars that didn’t belong, meaning, she explained, the boyfriend’s. The two had recently broken up; she would have noticed. When she called, no one answered, so she put on her boots and a wrap and walked down the road. The front door was open, the light spilling out onto the snow. (Here she was asked about footprints, a single broken pane, glass on the bathroom carpet; she didn’t know, she didn’t know.) Though the house was empty, something had happened inside. She tried the phone, then ran back to her place to call the state police.
And do you remember noticing, the transcript reads, if the back door was open at this time?
I don’t remember, Clare Hardesty answers.
I know—and everyone I grew up with knows—that the back door was open and that a pair of tracks led across the backyard and into the woods. We followed them at first in our imaginations, those snowy nights alone in bed (their breath, her bare feet sinking in), and then when the brave had made their pilgrimage, at lunch we hauled on our boots and crossed the interstate and slid down the hill to the spot we as a whole had chosen, just to one side of the board bridge over the spillway of Marsden’s Pond. Both the pond and the brook were iced over; only the spillway made noise. The more romantic of the tough girls had placed roses in a vase made of snow, every day a fresh one among the dead. Someone had tramped out a cross, which by January was neatly lined with beer cans. To one side sat a pile of lipsticked cigarette butts and burnt matches like an offering. We stood there, alone or in groups, looking back over the tangle of bare trees beyond which rose the water tower, and below it, invisible, her house. We passed a joint or bowl around and talked about how she was still there in the trees and the creek because the soul never dies. Someone always had gum, and I remember chewing and feeling my jaw harden and thinking that it was true, that I could feel Annie there. But at other times there was nothing, just munchies and a giddiness I would later be ashamed of.
March, cutting class, Warren Hardesty and I walked from the spot all the way to the edge of her backyard, retracing her last steps. It was farther than we thought, and we had to stop to stoke up a roach I’d saved. Warren had some blackberry brandy in a plastic Girl Scout canteen. It was Monday, around third period. The house was for sale but no one was going to buy it. The paint was peeling, the screenporch still full of her junk—lawnchairs, rabbit cages, deflated balls. Warren dared me to cross the lawn and just touch the house.
“You,” I said.
“Shit, I live right up the road.”
“So?” I said.
We did it together, leaving two sets of bootprints in the perfect snow. We each placed a gloved hand on the porch door. Through a casement window I could see a corner of a rug, and a chair, and light coming through the blue curtains of the front.
“Let’s go inside,” Warren said.
“Fuck you,” I said.
“Pussy,” he said, as if there were someone else there judging us.
I dropped my glove to the door handle.
“I’ll be right behind you,” Warren promised.
The spring protested, rang as if strummed. I stuck my head in. A hose lay coiled beneath a fraying chaise like a snake; above hung a pair of clotheslines, a few grayed pins still clinging. I thought of Annie with a basket of clothes and wondered if she had a dryer or even a washer, because at our old house we—my mother, that is—had always had both, and now we had neither.
Warren pushed me from behind and I fell across a picnic-table bench, knocking over a stack of boxes. One came open and out rolled a yellow mailbox for the Butler Eagle. I screamed as if it were a head. Warren was running for the woods, laughing his ass off. I scrambled up and went after him, shouting, “Fucker!”
Later we went back, at first partying at the picnic table and then, when we were more comfortable, in the house itself. We sat on the couch in the chilly living room, passing the canteen, toasting Annie. We never took anyone else and we were careful to clean up after ourselves. We pledged never to take or even move anything. The Prime Directive, Warren called it.
That was me when I was fourteen and I’m not proud of how we treated her place, but now I think I went there because even then I knew I was closer to Annie than all those girls with their roses and the people who went to her funeral. We had history. Stoned, I tried to picture her life there, and her death, though back then that was impossible for me to see clearly. I tried, I suppose, to say goodbye. The house hasn’t changed much since then. Eventually someone less reverent broke in and set a fire, and the police boarded it up. It’s still there, burnt furniture and all. I’ve been by.
My mother and I never really talked about what happened. We shared a few words of shocked consolation, and there was an air of mourning about the house, but while the papers were full of accounts, we did not discuss the killing itself, how and why it came about. I now see that she (and myself, though I did not acknowledge it at the time) was going through her own slow tragedy and needed her grief for both herself and me. She still called my father to make sure he would pick me up every other Saturday, but they did not talk beyond money and the logistics of visitation.

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First Chapter

Snow Angels

A Novel
By Stewart O'Nan

Picador

Copyright © 2008 Stewart O'Nan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312427696

ONE
I WAS IN THE BAND the fall my father left, in the second row of trombones, in the middle because I was a freshman. Tuesdays and Wednesdays after school we practiced in the music room, but on Fridays Mr. Chervenick led us outside in our down jackets and tasseled Steeler hats and shitkicker boots and across the footbridge that spanned the interstate to the middle school soccer field, where, like the football team itself, we ran square-outs and curls and a maneuver Mr. Chervenick called an oblique, with which, for the finale of every halftime show, we described—all 122 of us—a whirling funnel approximating our school’s nickname, the Golden Tornadoes. We never got it quite right, though every Friday Mr. Chervenick tried to inspire us, scampering across the frost-slicked grass in his chocolate leather coat and kid gloves and cordovans to herd us into formation until—in utter disgust—instead of steering a wayward oboe back on course he would simply arrest him or her by the shoulders so the entire block of winds had to stop, and then the brass and the drums, and we would have to start all over again.
Late one Friday in mid-December we were working on the tornado. Dusk had begun to fill the air and it was snowing, but Saturday was our last home game and Mr. Chervenick persuaded the janitor to turn on the lights. An inch or so had fallen during the day and it was impossible to see the lines. “Wrong, wrong, wrong!” Mr. Chervenick shouted. When the girl pulling the xylophone slipped and twisted her ankle, he blew his whistle three times, which meant we were to line up for a final chastising pep talk before we could leave. He climbed the three steps of his little wheeled podium and let us stand in silence for a minute so we would realize how disappointed he was. Snow piled up in our hair. Beyond the sea of flakes drifting through the high lights came the ringing drone of a tractor-trailer’s chains on the interstate. In the valley, muffled by a ceiling of clouds, lay the burning grid of Butler, the black river, the busy mills.
“We have all worked very hard this year,” he said, and paused, breathing steam, as if speaking to a stadium, waiting for his words to circle. Beside me Warren Hardesty muttered something—a joke, a rejoinder—and then we heard what I immediately identified (from my own .22, my father’s Mossberg, the nightly news from Vietnam) as gunshots. A clump of them. They crackled like fireworks, echoed over the bare trees on the other side of the highway. They were close. The band turned to them in unison, something Mr. Chervenick could never get us to do.
It had just turned deer season, and we all knew the power company had a clearcut through there behind the water tower, as well as the rights to the few overgrown fields carved out of the woods, but all of us with guns knew the land was posted, too close to the road and the school. And the time wasn’t right for hunting, the light was gone. We looked to each other as if to confirm our surprise.
Mr. Chervenick seemed to understand too, though he was not the hunting type. He praised our dedication, excused us and, instead of leading us back over the footbridge, headed across the empty parking lot for the lit doors of the middle school and stood there rapping on the glass until the janitor let him in.
What we had heard was someone being murdered, someone most of us knew, if dimly. Her name was Annie Marchand, and I knew her first—years before this—merely as Annie the babysitter. Her name at that time was Annie Van Dorn. She lived, then, with her parents, the next house down the road from us. We were not strictly neighbors; between our new hi-ranch and their boxy Greek Revival stretched a mile-wide field Mr. Van Dorn leased to an old farmer named Carlsen. Yet whenever my mother and father decided to escape for dinner out or to a movie, Mr. Van Dorn’s truck would pull up at the bottom of our drive and out would pop Annie with her purse and her schoolbooks, ready to whip me at Candyland and train my sister Astrid to draw on eyeliner.
I suspect that at first Astrid was more in love with her than I was. At thirteen Annie was taller than our mother, and strikingly thin. Her red hair came to her waist; her fingers were covered with rings from admirers. She smelled of the Van Dorns’ oil furnace and Secret deodorant and Juicy Fruit gum, and she made pizza and sang “Ruby Tuesday” and, for me, “Mr. Big Stuff.” Our daydreams, I admit, included her becoming our mother. Once we had an evening-long argument with her over the word “milk,” which we—like most Western Pennsylvanians—pronounced “melk,” but it did nothing to mediate our crush on her. This went on for years, like a grand affair. She left us only when my sister was old enough to watch me, and by then Annie was out of school and working, and sometimes my mother could not get her for Fridays anyway. We’d see her driving by in her brother Raymond’s Maverick or riding behind her boyfriend on his Honda, but rarely. For a few years she became—by her proximity and absence—distant and mysterious. My bedroom faced the field, and at night I studied the yellow eyes of her house and pictured her in her darkened room looking back at me.
Since then she had moved out like her brothers and married and had a girl of her own, but things had not gone well for her. That spring, she and her husband had separated. Mrs. Van Dorn, now widowed, lived alone in the family house. My mother looked in on her every day after work, and often that fall Annie was there, in the kitchen, the two of them commiserating bitterly over coffee. The worst, they must have figured, had already happened.
According to my mother, Mrs. Van Dorn wanted Annie to move back in with her. Annie and her daughter were living alone above town by the high school. Her house was the only one on Turkey Hill Road, a wooded cul-de-sac that ended at the base of the county water tower. The road had once crossed Old Route 2 but when they laid the interstate the government bought up all the houses and blocked it off on both sides. Beyond a caution-striped guardrail the cracked blacktop wandered off into scrub. The other, unluckier houses were still back there, overgrown, shingles mossy; we used to party in them. Mrs. Van Dorn was worried about Annie’s safety, but she and Annie—again, according to my mother—didn’t get along well enough to live together, and Annie stayed where she was.
At the hearing her nearest neighbor, Clare Hardesty, said she’d heard the shots and gone to her window. The road was empty, the spotlit water tower half lost in the snow. Annie’s lights were on; a colored string blinked around a tree. Clare didn’t see any cars that didn’t belong, meaning, she explained, the boyfriend’s. The two had recently broken up; she would have noticed. When she called, no one answered, so she put on her boots and a wrap and walked down the road. The front door was open, the light spilling out onto the snow. (Here she was asked about footprints, a single broken pane, glass on the bathroom carpet; she didn’t know, she didn’t know.) Though the house was empty, something had happened inside. She tried the phone, then ran back to her place to call the state police.
And do you remember noticing, the transcript reads, if the back door was open at this time?
I don’t remember, Clare Hardesty answers.
I know—and everyone I grew up with knows—that the back door was open and that a pair of tracks led across the backyard and into the woods. We followed them at first in our imaginations, those snowy nights alone in bed (their breath, her bare feet sinking in), and then when the brave had made their pilgrimage, at lunch we hauled on our boots and crossed the interstate and slid down the hill to the spot we as a whole had chosen, just to one side of the board bridge over the spillway of Marsden’s Pond. Both the pond and the brook were iced over; only the spillway made noise. The more romantic of the tough girls had placed roses in a vase made of snow, every day a fresh one among the dead. Someone had tramped out a cross, which by January was neatly lined with beer cans. To one side sat a pile of lipsticked cigarette butts and burnt matches like an offering. We stood there, alone or in groups, looking back over the tangle of bare trees beyond which rose the water tower, and below it, invisible, her house. We passed a joint or bowl around and talked about how she was still there in the trees and the creek because the soul never dies. Someone always had gum, and I remember chewing and feeling my jaw harden and thinking that it was true, that I could feel Annie there. But at other times there was nothing, just munchies and a giddiness I would later be ashamed of.
March, cutting class, Warren Hardesty and I walked from the spot all the way to the edge of her backyard, retracing her last steps. It was farther than we thought, and we had to stop to stoke up a roach I’d saved. Warren had some blackberry brandy in a plastic Girl Scout canteen. It was Monday, around third period. The house was for sale but no one was going to buy it. The paint was peeling, the screenporch still full of her junk—lawnchairs, rabbit cages, deflated balls. Warren dared me to cross the lawn and just touch the house.
“You,” I said.
“Shit, I live right up the road.”
“So?” I said.
We did it together, leaving two sets of bootprints in the perfect snow. We each placed a gloved hand on the porch door. Through a casement window I could see a corner of a rug, and a chair, and light coming through the blue curtains of the front.
“Let’s go inside,” Warren said.
“Fuck you,” I said.
“Pussy,” he said, as if there were someone else there judging us.
I dropped my glove to the door handle.
“I’ll be right behind you,” Warren promised.
The spring protested, rang as if strummed. I stuck my head in. A hose lay coiled beneath a fraying chaise like a snake; above hung a pair of clotheslines, a few grayed pins still clinging. I thought of Annie with a basket of clothes and wondered if she had a dryer or even a washer, because at our old house we—my mother, that is—had always had both, and now we had neither.
Warren pushed me from behind and I fell across a picnic-table bench, knocking over a stack of boxes. One came open and out rolled a yellow mailbox for the Butler Eagle. I screamed as if it were a head. Warren was running for the woods, laughing his ass off. I scrambled up and went after him, shouting, “Fucker!”
Later we went back, at first partying at the picnic table and then, when we were more comfortable, in the house itself. We sat on the couch in the chilly living room, passing the canteen, toasting Annie. We never took anyone else and we were careful to clean up after ourselves. We pledged never to take or even move anything. The Prime Directive, Warren called it.
That was me when I was fourteen and I’m not proud of how we treated her place, but now I think I went there because even then I knew I was closer to Annie than all those girls with their roses and the people who went to her funeral. We had history. Stoned, I tried to picture her life there, and her death, though back then that was impossible for me to see clearly. I tried, I suppose, to say goodbye. The house hasn’t changed much since then. Eventually someone less reverent broke in and set a fire, and the police boarded it up. It’s still there, burnt furniture and all. I’ve been by.
My mother and I never really talked about what happened. We shared a few words of shocked consolation, and there was an air of mourning about the house, but while the papers were full of accounts, we did not discuss the killing itself, how and why it came about. I now see that she (and myself, though I did not acknowledge it at the time) was going through her own slow tragedy and needed her grief for both herself and me. She still called my father to make sure he would pick me up every other Saturday, but they did not talk beyond money and the logistics of visitation.
We were all seeing a psychiatrist associated with our church, separately, on different days of the week. I remember that Dr. Brady and I mostly discussed hockey, though every session he would ask bluntly how I was doing at home, in school, with the band, with my mother, my father.


Continues...

Excerpted from Snow Angels by Stewart O'Nan Copyright © 2008 by Stewart O'Nan. Excerpted by permission.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 12 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2012

    A Great Read

    O'Nan is a deceptively simple writer. His words resound with clarity and depth.

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  • Posted January 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Enjoyed writing style

    O'Nan is a gifted writer that can make any story enjoyable. He interweaves two families that are in the process of divorce. He begins with the ending of the story and uses the rest of the book to lead up to the event with few surprises along the way. It's not an extremely thrilling book, but he just has a writing style that I enjoy reading. I highly recommend his book A Prayer for the Dying (one of the my Favorite books).

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  • Posted September 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Nothing Memorable...

    My first impression of this book was that it was meant for 6th graders. The font size used was huge and made it appear as if it had 10 words per page.

    Once I started reading it, I realized I wasn't too far off. While the subject matter is too much of a downer for a nine year old, the way the story was written would have made them feel right at home. The sentences were choppy and had no weight to them.

    There were so many missed opportunities that could have made this book a knockout, but were simply washed away. The deaths of several characters were described in at most 2 simply written paragraphs. I was left with a feeling of wanting more (or really SOMETHING) and getting handed simply a statement.

    You don't get a sense of love or hatred for any of the characters. While a lot of situations were sad, they were just that. Sad. Then you moved on. You didn't relate to the characters just the situation, which when it comes to reading a 300 page book, would help.

    I was disappointed by this book as it was recommended by someone who reads a massive amount of books. This book will definitely be sold at the next yard sale. No reason to keep it.

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  • Posted July 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    excellent story

    I have had this book on my shelves for awhile, recommended to me by a fellow B&N poster. This is my first O'Nan book and I really enjoyed it. It is told mostly through Arthur,a 14 year old boy who is trying to get by despite his parents' divorce and the changes that ensue. The parallel story line is the events leading up to the death of Annie, Arthur's former babysitter. Annie is separated from her recently suicidal husband and trying to raise her young daughter. There is a lot to like and a lot to criticize about Annie. The story is heart-breaking but unsentimental, a straight-forward plot.
    My favorite passage from the novel: I heard the door open and my mother outside, her voice tiny and stretched, screaming at him as he made for the Nova. I sat on the edge of my bed, calmly parting my hair. Like everything else that happened this winter, I was not going to let this stop me from being happy.
    O'Nan is an excellent writer and I can't wait to read some of his others, especially Last Night at the Lobster and Songs for the Missing. Snow Angels is also a movie with Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell. It's in my Netflix queue and I hope it is true to the book.

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  • Posted July 21, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    I loved this book!

    This is the 2nd book I've read by Stewart O'Nan. I love how he writes because I feel like I know his characters. I knew Arthur and his parents (my parents divorced when I turned 20) and I knew Annie. This is a heart-breaking story but it is hopeful, too. Life goes on and experience shapes a person. I could not put this book down. I'm returning it to the library today and will pick up another of Mr. O'Nan's books.

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  • Posted February 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Story About The Pain Of Youth

    I loved this story. Though the prose was very simple and not very stimulating intelligently it still was very deep and among most things very true. The characters in the story are people that we know in our ordinary day to day lives and how they act without the concern for the feelings of others. The fact that we all have at some point in our lives experienced the pain that Arthur is going through at the blossom of puberty and that feeling of growing detachment from family and the world as a whole makes this story very real to anyone who reads it.<BR/>Simple yet very touching.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2008

    A heavenly read!

    This is a story that links two families, almost indirectly, by a tragedy that affects them in enormously painful ways. Set in a rural community in Pennsylvania in mid-1970, the story is built around the lives of the two main characters, Arthur Parkinson and Annie Marchand. Arthur, who is the narrator of the chapters about his part in this heartbreaking story, is a 14-year-old high school student who is dealing with his family¿s slowly decaying break up. At the same time, a narrator who gives us the picture of her dismal, failing marriage and careless lifestyle, tells Annie¿s chaotic story. Arthur and his older sister Astrid are the children of parents who are selfish and immature, putting their needs ahead of their children. As Arthur¿s mother decides to divorce his father, the life Arthur knows begins to change. Moving and their resulting socio-economic situation only add to Arthur¿s problems as he tries to confront his involvement in Annie¿s story. Adolescence, confusion, fear, and torment all play into Arthur¿s mental state during this time. The events in his life during these years are only overshadowed by the awful part that involves Arthur in Annie¿s heartbreaking calamity. Whereas Annie Marchand was once the delightful babysitter to Arthur and Astrid, she soon inadvertently becomes the center of many of the problems for this family and especially Arthur. Annie, meanwhile, grows up to marry Glenn Marchand and her imprudent and neglectful acts soon result in her leaving Glenn, despite how it may effect her daughter, Tara. Although Glenn tries in his own somewhat feeble way to reconcile with Annie, who he loves, she rejects his efforts. In fact, she goes as far as to having an affair with Brock who is one of her own friend¿s boyfriends. Annie, proves to be even more selfish than one can imagine to the point that she neglects even Tara. This results in tragic consequences that lead to the beginning, and the end, of this tormented tale. Annie¿s future is one that she herself brings about through her actions. And yet, O¿Nan¿s treatment of Annie¿s character can still leave one with sympathy for her. In the end, we find Arthur questioning still what really has gone on and how things happened. Arthur feels that perhaps if he concentrates on the details of the past few years that are described in the book, that perhaps he ¿will finally understand everything that happened back then¿ and yet he goes on to say that he knows he can¿t. This leaves us with great sympathy for Arthur who turns out to be somewhat of an innocent bystander to all that goes on around him due in fact to all the other characters¿ actions. Snow Angels by Stewart O¿Nan is one of his earliest works. Recently having previewed his soon to be released Songs for the Missing and going back to read Last Night at the Lobster, I wasn¿t sure what to expect with Snow Angels. I was pleasantly relieved to find that Snow Angels fell in line with my opinion of O¿Nan as based on Last Night at the Lobster, instead of the extremely disappointing Songs for the Missing. With Snow Angels Stewart O¿Nan gives us the same working class characterizations that made me love his ¿Lobster¿ book and allows the reader to relate to the story and want to finish reading it without stopping. This is a story that will stay with the reader for a long time, as it will with me.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2008

    Amazing

    I found this book to be absolutely amazing. I could not put it down. It's so sad and depressing and yet it also has a lot of beauty to it. I don't know else how to describe how amazing this was. This book is amazing to me on so many levels.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2008

    Will stay with you

    This is a story that links two families, almost indirectly, by a tragedy that affects them in enormously painful ways. Set in a rural community in Pennsylvania in mid-1970, the story is built around the lives of the two main characters, Arthur Parkinson and Annie Marchand. Arthur, who is the narrator of the chapters about his part in this heartbreaking story, is a 14-year-old high school student who is dealing with his family¿s slowly decaying break up. At the same time, a narrator who gives us the picture of her dismal, failing marriage and careless lifestyle, tells Annie¿s chaotic story. Arthur and his older sister Astrid are the children of parents who are selfish and immature, putting their needs ahead of their children. As Arthur¿s mother decides to divorce his father, the life Arthur knows begins to change. Moving and their resulting socio-economic situation only add to Arthur¿s problems as he tries to confront his involvement in Annie¿s story. Adolescence, confusion, fear, and torment all play into Arthur¿s mental state during this time. The events in his life during these years are only overshadowed by the awful part that involves Arthur in Annie¿s heartbreaking calamity. Whereas Annie Marchand was once the delightful babysitter to Arthur and Astrid, she soon inadvertently becomes the center of many of the problems for this family and especially Arthur. Annie, meanwhile, grows up to marry Glenn Marchand and her imprudent and neglectful acts soon result in her leaving Glenn, despite how it may effect her daughter, Tara. Although Glenn tries in his own somewhat feeble way to reconcile with Annie, who he loves, she rejects his efforts. In fact, she goes as far as to having an affair with Brock who is one of her own friend¿s boyfriends. Annie, proves to be even more selfish than one can imagine to the point that she neglects even Tara. This results in tragic consequences that lead to the beginning, and the end, of this tormented tale. Annie¿s future is one that she herself brings about through her actions. And yet, O¿Nan¿s treatment of Annie¿s character can still leave one with sympathy for her. In the end, we find Arthur questioning still what really has gone on and how things happened. Arthur feels that perhaps if he concentrates on the details of the past few years that are described in the book, that perhaps he ¿will finally understand everything that happened back then¿ and yet he goes on to say that he knows he can¿t. This leaves us with great sympathy for Arthur who turns out to be somewhat of an innocent bystander to all that goes on around him due in fact to all the other characters¿ actions. Snow Angels by Stewart O¿Nan is one of his earliest works. Recently having previewed his soon to be released Songs for the Missing and going back to read Last Night at the Lobster, I wasn¿t sure what to expect with Snow Angels. I was pleasantly relieved to find that Snow Angels fell in line with my opinion of O¿Nan as based on Last Night at the Lobster, instead of the extremely disappointing Songs for the Missing. With Snow Angels Stewart O¿Nan gives us the same working class characterizations that made me love his ¿Lobster¿ book and allows the reader to relate to the story and want to finish reading it without stopping. This is a story that will stay with the reader for a long time, as it will with me.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2008

    Mediocre prose and very depressing.

    Snow Angels is a book I picked up on a whim at the local Barnes and Noble. It took me almost three weeks to get through it. The prose was extremely hard to follow at times. Also the story was just down right depressing. In my opinion I read books to learn something, escape the real world for awhile and maybe be given a glimmer of hope for humanity. This book did nothing for me and life is too short to waste on bad prose and bad story lines.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2000

    HAUNTING - UNFORGETTABLE

    O'NAN WRITES SO YOU FEEL YOU ARE RIGHT THERE. THE YOUNG BOY, HIS FAMILY, HIS FORMER BABY-SITTER - THE SCHOOL BUS TRIPS - ARE SO REAL. THE STORY GAVE ME A CLEARER UNDERSTANDING OF HOW OTHERS LIVE AND COPE.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews

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